After the events of the season 12 finale, many a Sunny fan was left wondering how the show would continue from here. Would Dennis’ departure and Charlie’s relationship with the Waitress be temporary or permanent changes? How would the remaining characters deal with them? Can the show still be funny if you upend its dynamic?
The answer, it turns out, is a little bit of everything. (Well, and “yes” for the last question.)
First things first: the literal hole Dennis leaves in the Gang (phrasing, I know, but let’s put a pin in that for now) is filled by Cindy, played by Mindy Kaling as essentially a more competent and supportive version of Dennis’ schemer. When we meet her in the cold open, the Gang is in the middle of a successful scheme to hold a night of “liberal conversation and liberal drinking” at Paddy’s to sell “Conservative Whine” to the crowd, only for her to reveal afterward, in private, that the real plan is to swindle conservatives. Cue red hats and title.
The writers know their characters so well that they understand exactly how pulling Dennis, Jenga-like, out of the mildly functioning organism that is the Paddy’s Gang would affect the rest of the crew. Any doubts about how they’d handle a potentially Dennis-less season should be allayed by this terrific and absurdly funny episode. I say “absurdly” because a great deal of the humor comes from the long, manipulative, narcissistic shadow Dennis casts over the rest of the Gang. It shouldn’t be as funny as it is to hear the Gang re-use old insults that Dennis would use or fill in the blanks for him, but given the craft put into this show and how long it’s been running, we know these characters well enough that we recognize that even their simple lines and reactions are pitch-perfect.
Now, speaking of leaving literal holes: Mac misinterprets Cindy’s comment that he has a Dennis-shaped hole in his heart and decides to get a Dennis-shaped hole to fill. In the form of a Dennis sex doll. That doll looms large this episode, as the other characters continually project their insecurities onto things Dennis would say about them (which he would, and also, he possibly created those insecurities). The Gang is meeting in Mac’s apartment to discuss Cindy’s plan to get revenge on Murphy’s (which most of the gang doesn’t even realize is an Irish bar doing much better business than they are) when the doll arrives; cue conversations about how the custom mouth is definitely to make it look like he’s always conversing, and that Mac definitely isn’t going to have sex with the doll the moment everyone leaves.
The Dennis doll gets in everyone’s head; everyone starts hearing it talk to them, which is all in good fun at first, but while they all prepare for Cindy’s plan, they hear Dennis’ criticism and it leads them to sabotage their ends. (Dee goes from looking pretty good to the ridiculous makeup-and-lighting setup we saw in “The Gang Desperately Tries to Win an Award”; Mac shows up to the bar shirtless in the duster because it’s what he thinks Dennis would do, and then he thinks Dennis would call him fat; even Frank doesn’t have confidence he can play the tuba.)
And poor Charlie, getting tired of the Waitress’ incessant calls to him, decides to bring the Dennis doll to the apartment to keep her company. (Of course, she can’t go to the bar with him, as he explains; that might trigger her alcoholism.) Naturally, she drinks a bottle of wine, has sex with the Dennis doll, then dumps Charlie. Charlie tries to beat up the Dennis doll. (I guess he succeeds?) The Gang takes Charlie to a strip club to console him, but they realize it doesn’t feel right; they’re forcing it, trying to get up to their old activities even though they’ve changed. And they realize how much they like Cindy and how much better she is for them than Dennis. And also, that it’s weird to have the Dennis doll at the strip club.
In the end, the Gang nearly shows up late for Cindy’s plan, but they found a way to alleviate Frank’s tuba-playing fears through the comedy of using the Dennis doll. (Charlie: “I was playing his asshole.”) Cindy correctly surmises that what actually happened:
“I think that you all went to a strip club last night, and you got super hammered and horny, and the three of you decided to fuck the doll. Only to find out that when force is applied to the almost vacuum-tight polyurethane hole, it made a noise. You [Frank] instantly put it in your mouth. You [Mac] probably knew it would work because you clearly have had sex with a doll multiple times. You [Charlie] decided that this was the most brilliant idea that you’ve ever come up with, when really it was the result of the most insane, disgusting orgy to have ever taken place. And you, Dee, you just sat back and watched the whole thing happen, because you are so numb to this kind of behavior that it doesn’t even register to you as odd.”
“That’s dead on.” “Yeah, you nailed it.” “Point by point.”
And then Dennis is just there out of the blue. And as much better for them and nicer to them Cindy is than Dennis, they all decide they want him back instead. (Even Dee: “Yeah, I hear what you’re saying, but I kinda like being the only woman, it makes me feel special.”)
The terrific Tristan “Drunk Napoleon” Nankervis has posted some thoughts on It’s Always Sunny at Friend of the Leftorium The Solute; one thing he’s observed is how the show (and the Gang) has changed over the years, first from being something of a soap opera, to moving towards a more self-contained ecosystem, to an ecosystem so self-contained and self-referential it becomes unable to function in the outside world, to season 12 marking an era where that bubble bursts as the real world intrudes (Dennis’ child; Charlie and the Waitress). The season 13 premiere seems to be taking all of these concepts and remixing them to see what they’d look like without Dennis; I’m extremely eager to see what the rest holds, both with and without Dennis. (As he reminds the Gang at the end of the episode, he’s here “for now.” Well, then he asks Mac if he’s gotten a little fat.)
- I couldn’t find a good still from this episode. At least this image avoids spoiling anything.
- Seriously, think about the number of self-references and callbacks here. The duster, the Waitress’ infatuation with Dennis; Dee’s makeup/lighting setup; the Gang consoling one of its own at the strip club; “Dennis is a bastard man”; Frank and a sex doll; “Higher Love.”
- Oh, Mac is jacked now. That might have been an even funnier reveal than Fat Mac. And of course makes Dennis’ needling his body that much more brutal (and Mac’s open neediness that much more endearing and/or heartbreaking).
- “Stop trying to shoehorn your shirtlessness into plans that have no reason for it!”
- “Is the blowjob mouth a custom thing?”
- “I know it’s just a lifeless thing that Mac pumps his loads into, but it’s in my head!”
- “I fucked it… because that’s what it’s designed for.”
- “Ah, Mac was shooting his loads into it?”
- Frank’s gun makes its first appearance of the season. Two shots fired!
- I didn’t watch this on cable, but was all the swearing unbleeped? Sunny might have carte blanche with F-bombs at this point (really, given “Hero or Hate Crime?”, there seem to be no limits left).
- Of course, the episode ends with “The Boys Are Back in Town.” Indeed they are. Welcome back Sunny, and welcome readers to our weekly coverage!